Opinion: Time for Berkeley residents to reflect on seafood choices

While purchasing wild-caught salmon from other sources, Berkeley salmon eaters should also advocate for healthy rivers, healthy oceans.

A recent Berkeleyside article details the upcoming retirement of Mike Hudson, co-owner of Berkeley’s last full-time commercial fishing operation Hudson Fish. With Mr. Hudson’s retirement and Hudson Fish leaving Berkeley-area farmers’ markets, Berkeley loses a crucial link to local, wild-caught salmon and seafood. 

Like food producers on land, commercial fishing operations are prone to the growing effects of climate change. Rapidly changing environmental conditions have disheartening impacts. In the article, Mr. Hudson describes his experience catching far fewer fish recently than when he began fishing out of Berkeley 25 years ago. 

Given current dietary recommendations, consumers understandably find salmon an attractive choice. Salmon is high in protein, essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and vitamin D and contains less harmful mercury than many other seafoods. Regular consumption is linked to lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and age-related cognitive declines. Salmon is also delicious. Berkeley salmon eaters accustomed to purchasing their fish from the Hudsons will need to find new suppliers, but they should do so carefully.  

Consumers setting out to purchase most seafoods face a choice at the point of sale: whether to buy wild-caught or farmed varieties. The choice depends on different factors for any given species, although in many cases, one method of raising the seafood is often demonstrably better for human health, broader ecosystem health, or both. For salmon, consumers should consider their own health and the broader implications of their purchases and pick wild, even though farmed salmon options are in plentiful supply at grocery stores. Wild salmon is lower in harmful saturated fat and higher in multiple contaminants than farmed fish, and with similar amounts of omega-3 fatty acids between the two choices, the healthier choice is the wild. But the benefits of choosing wild salmon extend far beyond individual health. 

Farmed salmon escaping from marine net pens interbreed with wild fish, producing offspring in the wild less suited to their environment due to the introduction of genes from farmed fish. Disease outbreaks from farmed populations can affect wild populations as well. And antibiotic use in salmon farms can increase resistance, including among antibiotics medically relevant to humans. Farmed fish also require large amounts of feed, much of which is produced from other species of fish caught around the world and transported to salmon farming operations. But why are we farming salmon in the first place? What if we considered alternate methods to produce the amounts of salmon consumers request? 

Most wild-caught salmon start their lives in hatcheries because we’ve depleted ecosystems salmon require to reproduce and thrive. Hatcheries attempt to support the remaining populations left in the wild by raising and releasing new generations in supportive conditions. After spending their adult years in the ocean, anadromous salmon need cool streams without too much current to lay their eggs. Warming temperatures, habitat loss, and drought all threaten wild salmon reproduction. Without Hudson Fish, consumers balancing personal health, environmental responsibility, supporting local businesses, and price will have drastically reduced options. While purchasing wild-caught salmon from other sources, Berkeley salmon eaters should also advocate for healthy rivers, healthy oceans, and more stringent climate policies in the hopes that sustainable wild salmon fishing can someday return to oceanic regions easily accessible from Berkeley.  

Allison Work is a public health student in environmental health sciences at UC Berkeley.